Rangers in a slow pursuit
Minor trade part of big picture as Texas eyes Japanese star.
The Rangers made a minor league trade Saturday with major implications.
In essence, they announced their offseason strategy for retooling, rather than rebuilding, the team. It all centers on their pursuit of the next great Japanese star, pitcher (and part-time DH) Shohei Otani.
Put it this way: It certainly never centered on Brallen Perez, the 21-year-old Class-A infielder they sent to the Baltimore Orioles. In return, they received flexibility. It is a most valuable commodity heading into the winter.
From Baltimore, the Rangers received the value of an international signing bonus slot worth $500,000. It was the second international slot bonus they’ve acquired in the last five weeks. They also sent shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri to the Chicago White Sox in July for an undisclosed slot amount. That slot is expected to be worth close to the $1.35 million bonus Yrizarri received in 2013. Add those sums to the remaining money the Rangers had in their pool and they have more than $3 million still to spend on international prospects. They are believed to have one of the largest amounts of cap room left.
“It just gives us more flexibility,” said assistant general manager Josh Boyd, who was careful not to mention Otani. “We have a lot of faith in our international scouting guys. Given the nature of the market, it behooves us to have flexibility throughout the year.”
The way the international scouting process works, teams are given a pool “cap” of money they can spend without incurring penalties. In the Rangers’ case, the initial amount was $4.75 million for the 2017-18 signing period. Ostensibly, this money is used to sign Latin American teenagers. But most of those teens sign in the first week of the signing period, which begins July 2. The Rangers spent about $3 million of their pool in that week.
It’s always good to keep a bit of flexibility in case a deal falls through elsewhere or an unexpected Cuban player shows up. But the Rangers had more than $1.5 million left when they started adding. And they may not be done.
“If there are opportunities to improve the club, we will continue to try to do so,” Boyd said. “Our expectation is to continue to stockpile (talent).”
Asked if the Rangers expected to spend more big dollars on Latin American talent, Boyd responded: “International.”
All of this is code, of course, for Otani. The Rangers have been focused on the 23-year-old Japanese star for years. It’s part of why they were only lukewarm about negotiating an extension for Yu Darvish and why they ultimately traded Darvish without so much as a single contract offer. Darvish turns 31 this month, and mega-investments in pitchers past the age of 30 aren’t wise.
If Otani comes to the U.S. this winter — and that remains a big if — he will be subject to the same restrictions that Latin American teens are under. Teams will offer the $20 million maximum posting fee. Otani would sign a minor league contract with his “big” windfall being the signing bonus. That bonus comes from whatever teams have left in their international pool.
The Rangers are positioned pretty well, it would seem. Eleven clubs, including the deep-pocketed Dodgers and Cubs, are under restrictions for over-spending their pool last year and can’t offer a player a bonus of more than $300,000. Another four or five clubs have spent the vast majority of their pool money.
This is all so unprecedented, though. Otani might — wink, wink, nod, nod — “prefer” a team’s lower bonus offer because of its rich traditions and whatever else, then sign a huge contract extension on his first day in the majors.
All the Rangers can do is try to better position themselves. They have done that.
By all accounts, Darvish had a very positive experience in Texas. Rangers officials spent much of the last decade getting acquainted with and building relationships in the Japanese baseball community.
In the Japanese culture, a high priority is placed on respectful gestures. The full-page thank-you advertisement the Rangers purchased in the national Japanese sports paper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, for Sunday’s editions was a sign of their respect for Darvish and for Japanese baseball in general. It was a very respectful gesture.
Also respectful: cobbling together as much money as possible for a potential signing bonus.
Which is why minor moves for the Rangers these days are anything but.
The Rangers appear to be stockpiling international signing bonus money for an eventual pursuit of 23-year-old Japanese star Shohei Otani (above, pitching in 2015).